Spellbound: Behind the Stories

In last October’s anniversary post Eight Is Great, I gave you a brief  rundown of the history of Spellbound and its locations. In response to some questions I’ve fielded from customers, I’ve decided to write about what was left out of that post: why Spellbound stayed so downsized inside Zapow gallery for so long–from February 2012 to now.

At the time of that anniversary post, it was all too fresh for me to write about. I’m also a very private person, and I like to keep my personal life and business life separate. Unfortunately, sometimes that becomes impossible.

As discussed in this recent podcast interview, by the fall of 2011 I had decided not to renew Spellbound’s  lease at our Wall Street location downtown for a few reasons. For one thing, while we had gained a lot of business from tourists by moving downtown, many local customers expressed how challenging it was to get to Spellbound now that we were downtown, especially when shopping with small children. Most said they preferred Spellbound being in West Asheville–even those customers who don’t live or work in that neighborhood. For another thing, our rent at the Wall Street location was going to increase if we stayed and, though Wall Street is a lovely street, our store is so specialized that we weren’t getting enough foot traffic there to make me confident that Spellbound could afford rent any higher–especially since locals weren’t shopping with us as frequently there.

So I informed our landlords that we would not be renewing and began searching for a new home for Spellbound. I felt pretty strongly that we would probably end up back in West Asheville, where it all began. As the end of the year (and the end of our lease) drew near, however, no space had been located. I spoke with many friends and customers about wanting to make sure I didn’t rush into signing a lease on just any space—I wanted it to be the right space, and I wanted it to be the last time I had to move this bookstore. (I hate moving!)

One of the people I chatted with about this was Lauren Patton, who had just opened an art gallery called Zapow with her husband Matt Johnson. We had been talking for months about how we wanted our businesses to work together somehow, as the gallery was going to have a unique focus on illustration, and what goes together better than children’s books and illustration?

Lauren and Matt invited Spellbound to move into their gallery space. They had just opened and needed to fill space, and I needed a way to keep my store open without rushing into signing a long-term lease. I was offered the chance to take as little or as much space as I wanted for the bookstore, and I didn’t have to sign a long-term lease. Since it was about to be the dead of winter, when sales always drop off a cliff, I decided to just take a wee bit of space for a couple of months and we talked about a couple of different scenarios: Spellbound could expand to take up a lot of the Zapow space, perhaps with dividing walls between the two business or perhaps leaving it open; or perhaps it would be a temporary stop on the way to a new permanent home for the bookstore.

Sadly, only a month after downsizing and moving our inventory into Zapow’s space, my family was thrown into a crisis of the kind that many of you have probably experienced and can relate to. My mother got very ill very quickly, and was diagnosed with cancer. By the time it was caught, it had already spread from her lungs to her brain. Suddenly, she was in and out of the hospital every few days, was started on radiation therapy immediately…and my siblings and my father and I tried to make sure that at least one of us was with her all the time, wherever she was. Our hometown is Marion, about 30 miles east of Asheville. Sometimes she was in the hospital there, sometimes here.

Thanks to my arrangement with Matt and Lauren of Zapow, the three of us were now sharing customer service duties of both businesses, meaning that we could now have both businesses open seven days a week while we each got a little more time away from the cash register to work on all the other things that need to be done, as well as actually having some time off. Needless to say, this became very important as my mother’s disease progressed. Before the Zapow move, as the only full-time staff member of Spellbound I had to be at the store six days a week in order to keep it open (and therefore be able to pay both the business’s bills and my own). If I had still been in that situation when this crisis hit, I don’t know how I would have handled it. I certainly would not have been able to care for my mother as much or simply spend much time with her in what turned out to be her final months.

Understandably, I think, while all of this was going on, all thoughts of either expanding within the Zapow space or searching for a new location were just put on hold for several months. When things were settled down, I decided that the best thing for Spellbound would be to have its own stand-alone location outside of downtown again. And so the search for property began anew, and an Indiegogo campaign was launched to make sure that Spellbound could afford a really nice space and outfit it with good lighting, signage, etc., and bump our inventory up to pre-recession size and then some. (Campaign is live until May 15th, 2013–please visit today to see the great free gifts you can earn for contributions.) We also have changes planned that should allow Spellbound to add an assistant manager position before long, which will be an investment in the bookstore’s ability to provide more programming in the short term and in its ability to better weather another crisis even in a stand-alone space. Of course, none of the funds raised through the campaign will pay anyone’s salary directly, least of all mine. The expected jump-start in sales as well as the addition of room rentals and higher margin used books are what will fuel any job creation.

I know that for every person who actually asked me about our downsizing, there are probably several others who wondered “Hey, what’s the deal?” without actually asking. In light of the crowd funding campaign, in which I am asking people to contribute to Spellbound’s growth, I felt that I needed to be more transparent, as the saying goes, regarding our current location.

I’m sorry for the delay in returning to normal size (as opposed to our current Fun Size version), and I am so very grateful to the many people who have continued to be loyal Spellbound customers in each location. I hope that very soon you will be rewarded with the biggest, best version of Spellbound yet….and that this really will be the last time I ever have to move this bookstore!


Bookmark this Post: Creative Funding

HelenaCampaignBkmarksThese bookmarks were designed exclusively for Spellbound to help raise money for our campaign. They can be purchased for $3 at Spellbound or Zapow. Handmade by Zapow artist Helena Hannukainen, who donated her time and talent to help Spellbound grow.

You should stop by the Zapow/Spellbound complex at 21 Battery Park Avenue to check out the rest of Helena’s amazing work. She has originals and prints available of her paintings and line drawings.

And don’t forget to visit the Indiegogo campaign page at http://bit.ly/GrowBks before May 15th to help us grow into a bigger, better Spellbound.

Launch Day!

Today is the official launch of Spellbound’s crowd funding campaign on IndieGogo. Please visit the campaign home page at http://bit.ly/GrowBks to watch a super cute video starring some of our young customers, read more about our plans to expand space, inventory, and programming, and to learn about all the cool, free gifts we can send you in thanks for contributing.

SpellboundVisionSketchSmall (2)Here is a sketch by architect Liz Dion illustrating what we envision for the new store space, including a separate event room that can be closed off for private birthday parties, baby showers, workshops, and more. When not in use for events, this room will house the large inventory of used and bargain books we plan to add, as well as lots of comfy seating.

Our funding goal is $18,500 by May 15th, 2013. Any size contribution is helpful, especially if you share with your friends and community that you have contributed and ask them to consider contributing as well. Spreading the word is one of the easiest ways to help… lots and lots of small contributions are just as good as a handful of large ones. Better, even…it shows how much support there is out there for locally owned independent bookstores that support local communities economically and culturally.

Our goal is to raise enough funding to cover the moving costs so that we can expand into a larger, stand-alone space with more room for events and more great books for kids of all ages. We are also responding to overwhelming customer feedback since our move downtown: you want Spellbound back in location that is easier to get to when shopping with your kids and that has free parking that is easier to find. We are focusing our search on the West Asheville neighborhood, extremely convenient to shoppers from all over the area and yet with less traffic and easier parking than downtown.

Thanks to everyone who has already contributed on Day One, and please help us spread the word for the next 44 days!

Tell the Lady What You Like

I just came across this great article from The Horn Book, one of my favorite resources for parents, teachers, librarians, or anyone who appreciates children’s books. I had to share it.

Written in 1997 by Terri Schmitz of The Children’s Book Shop in Brookline, Massachusetts, this article has timeless and sage advice for parents navigating the bookstore with (or for) their kids.

Happy (Official) Birthday to Us

Well, we’ve been celebrating all month, but tomorrow (Sunday October 25) is our very officially official fifth anniversary of being in business. I’m writing this post today because I have a feeling I won’t have time to write tomorrow…at least I hope not! I’ll add pictures from our big day to this post at a later time.

Just a reminder that Sunday will be:

Our special Halloween story time at 1:00. Costumes welcome! (A few costumed ghoulies showed up a day early–hope they can come back tomorrow!)

The last day to register to win a free copy of School of Fear, complete with a set of pencils and reading group guides!

The first day of 25% off storewide! (Applies to all in-stock merchandise except the vintage collectibles and items already marked down and put on the sale table–and those are usally 40-50% off retail!)

Free cupcakes all day! (Thanks to Sheila, the Other Book Witch!)

Okay, as promised…some pictures:






Published in: on October 25, 2009 at 5:28 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Don’t Let the Pigeon Sit in the Window

So around lunch time today a bird decided to wander into the store and look around. He took refuge under the rocking chair in our story time area for a few minutes, then as we tried to gently shoo him out from under it he got excited and flew over to Alisha’s display window, settling down among the various framed prints and canvasses. PigeonWindow10-06-09Alisha and I were both too chicken (no pun intended) to try to grab the bird, both because we didn’t want to hurt it and we didn’t trust it not to peck us. Luckily a very gallant gentleman parking across the street noticed the commotion and volunteered to do a quick capture and release.

Thankfully the bird didn’t leave us with anything but a photo-worthy memory.0-916291-45-6_d

Happy Birthday, Spellbound

Well, here it is… birthday month. Five years in business! Our official birthday is October 25, and on that day we will have free cupcakes all day (or while supplies last, as the saying goes), and I for one will be giddy with excitement. Or is that exhaustion? Hard to tell some days.

In the meantime, check out the store’s website for details on our month-long celebration, including author and book character visits, a sale that increases by 5% every week, weekly book give-aways, and more. And here’s a nice mention we got in Bookselling This Week about our big number five.

I would write more, but I have to go buy some streamers and noise makers. (Although, considering the average age of our little shoppers, maybe I’ll rethink that last item…)

Just Another Day

After work last night I packed up the Spellbound traveling dog & pony show and headed to Walnut Street. That is to say, I packed up a lot of books and fliers and signage and set up a table for off-site sales at Asheville Community Theatre. It was the first night of their production of Peter Pan, and Spellbound is selling paperbacks of the book in the lobby.

In the course of the evening I saw some familiar faces, met some new customers and other business contacts, had a little champagne (shhh… don’t tell anyone) and, at one point, found myself chatting with a pirate in the lobby about the travails of finding just the right retail location in Asheville. Just another day in my strange and wonderful job.

PeterPanWe’ll be at every performance of Peter Pan, in the lobby by the front door, selling the newest paperback edition of Peter Pan,which includes an introduction by Tony DiTerlizzi (of Spiderwick fame) and in the back there are great discussion questions, plus important need-to-know facts about fairies, pirates, and mermaids. All for only $5, with 10% of sales going to ACT.

The play runs for the next three weekends. We hope to see you there. There’s a real dog playing Nana, real pirates (obviously), fairies, a crocodile, real flying… what are you waiting for? Click here for ticket information. As for directions, you already know how to get there: second star to the right, and straight on til morning.

Bounty of the Small Bookshop

No, I’m not referring to the bounty of wonderful reading material (this time). As an independent bookseller, it’s very easy to get a chip on your shoulder about the advantages that the big guys have. But I’m also regularly reminded of the advantages we enjoy.

I’ll wager that authors don’t often bring shortbread cookies to the staff at Borders. I doubt seriously that customers bring homemade applesauce, blueberry squares, or tubs of fresh blueberries from their gardens to the folks at Amazon. These are all goodies that I have received in the last two weeks. It’s enough to make my heart (and my waistline) bulge with contentment.

The rewards are not just in the form of yummy edibles, though. There have been times over the last couple of years when I really wondered if the store was going to make it, or if it was even worth it to keep trying. But then, as if by divine intervention, someone would walk in and spontaneously tell me how much they appreciate Spellbound, or how much it meant to their neighborhood, or how much their kids enjoyed it. How glad they were that we were here.

Well, we’re still here, and moments like that are a great reminder of why. In October, Spellbound will be five years old. Can you believe it? Five years! Statistically, the odds were against us making it past two years as a new small business. Stacked against us even more as a small independent bookshop in an industry dominated by chains and online behemoths. Throw in a nationwide economic swan dive, and… well, as you can imagine, we feel we have a lot to celebrate.

Right now I am scheming (in a good way). I’m planning our birthday celebration. I want to find a good way to say Thank You to all of you who have made the celebration possible. (Don’t worry–one thing I know for sure is that there will be cake!)

A Very Pleasant Monday (No, Really!)

What a lovely surprise… a couple came into the store this morning, looked around for a few minutes and then asked me an unusual question:

“If we buy this book, will you promise to reorder it?” I think I must have given them a blank stare. The gentleman said, “It’s your last copy, and we’d feel bad about taking it if you weren’t going to reorder.”

At this moment I noticed his wife taking Lois Ehlert’s new book, Boo to You, off the shelf. Well, of course I’m going to reorder that… I expect it to be very popular between now and Halloween! Just then, the woman says, a little self-consciously, “You see, I’m the author, and I want to make sure you’ll get more if I take this.”

First thought: Oh my God, Lois Ehlert is in my store?!

Second thought: I thought she’d be much, much older.

But it turns out that her husband had the book in question in his hand: our last copy of  The House in the Night, the winner of the 2009 Caldecott Medal and one of my favorite picture books from last year. So, while I was not meeting Lois Ehlert, I can’t say that I was disappointed in the least to be meeting Susan Marie Swanson. We had a lovely chat. She told me what a surprising number of luminaries in children’s literature live in her home state of Minnesota and was very interested in finding out about our local authors. (Thanks, by the way, to the proprietors of the charming Beaufort House Inn for sending Susan Marie and her husband to Spellbound!)

For those who may not be familiar with Susan Marie’s work, here are some reviews. She wrote the lovely text, while the illustrations were done by Beth Kromme and earned the book the coveted Caldecott Medal for illustration. (And yes, we will have more in stock by Friday!)


“Here the art is spectacular. Executed in scratchboard decorated in droplets of gold, Krommes’ illustrations expand on Swanson’s reassuring story (inspired by a nursury rhyme that begins, “This is the key of the kingdom”) to create a world as cozy inside a house as it is majestic outside.”–Booklist, starred review
“Inspired by traditional cumulative poetry, Swanson weaves a soothing song that is as luminescent and soulful as the gorgeous illustrations that accompany her words. . . . It is a masterpiece that has all the hallmarks of a classic that will be loved for generations to come.”–School Library Journal, starred review

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